Asiaversary Trip Hotel Review – Koyao Island Resort

Panoramic Pool View at Koyao Resort
Panoramic view at the infinity pool at Koyao Resort

After we wrapped up at Santhiya, we caught a Tuk Tuk over to one of the piers on the North side of the island to take a longboat transfer (costing a couple hundred Baht) to the pier on the South side of Koh Yao Noi. From there, we caught a public Tuk Tuk to Koyao Resort, and felt much more at ease almost instantly as we saw the surroundings on the short ride (10-15 minutes) to our resort property. This property was called the Koyao Island Resort, and was the #2 ranked hotel on the island (besides, no real surprise here, the Six Senses resort just up the road).

Here is what I would say about the Koyao Island Resort:

  • Overall: 8/10 – Very nice (and refreshingly quaint/quiet) resort with a lot of “free” amenities that are actually fairly valuable
  • Notes:
    • The island itself was a big shift from Koh Yao Yai; it was much friendlier, much more energetic, with a lot more character and small “hole-in-the-wall” type shops and restaurants
    • Reminded us a lot more of Tulum, which is what we thought we were signing up for in the first place (so, expectations came close to meeting reality!)
    • The staff at this resort were much more accommodating, perhaps because it is maybe only 10% the size of Santhiya (I would guess there are 20-30 rooms total at this resort, instead of the 200+ at Santhiya)
    • Daily activities are offered free of charge, and we ended up lucking out with a 4 hour longboat tour of several surrounding islands with a few of our fellow guests. The fact that the resort puts this together once a week is such a great amenity because, otherwise, you’d have to shell out at least $100 to do that as a couple anywhere else. The time was right, too, we decided we couldn’t do a full day on a boat (especially if the sun was out and it was hot). So this was the perfect way to quench that thirst for boat excursion without having to give up a full day (and a full stack of Thai Baht)
    • The infinity pool was great, and we enjoyed cooling off in it after we got too hot
    • Rooms were very well-appointed, and the biggest hidden gem from my perspective was the insect zapper tennis racket (I had WAY too much fun with this)
    • The food was a bit better than Santhiya, especially the quality/freshness/selection at breakfast buffet (side note: you could tell the head chef took pride in his work as he would stand out and greet guests and help prepare specific selections that were requested by guests). Katy could live off of the pancakes here!
    • Overall, we felt much more at home and at peace/relaxed here than we had previously

Til Next Time,

Michael

Asiaversary Trip Hotel Review – Santhiya (Koh Yao Yai)

Room View at Santhiya
Stunning panoramic views from our room at Santhiya

For our first stop in the islands off of Phuket, we chose to stay at a place we found online that had stunning views. This place was called Santhiya, and it was on the island of Koh Yao Yai.

The one thing I will say leading into this was that the airport>hotel transfer was a blatantly miserable experience. From the time we got off the plane, it took probably the better part of three hours to get settled into our room. We first met someone outside baggage claim, only to have to wait in a staging area. Then, we were walked over to a secondary staging area, where we waited on a private shuttle (with two other couples also staying Santhiya). Not so bad, yet… Then, once we got over to the marina, we had to wait (yet again) while the team checked us in and scanned our passports. Nearly one hour later, we were loaded onto a boat and brought over to the island. Then, upon disembarking the ferry (which took around 20 minutes), we had to yet again (you guessed it) wait some more to get formally checked in. At this point, I think I had to provide my physical credit card for a third time (side note/pet peeve: you already have my card on file – just ask me if you can use that instead of continuing to shake me down for my card; I’m not trying to dine and ditch on the tab!), and we soon thereafter began the trek up to our room (which, we found out later, was much more than a hop, skip, and a jump). Exhausting, right??

As far as the review… Here is what I would say about Santhiya:

  • Overall: 6/10 – Stunning views, very cool architecture, but then the resort (and the surrounding town for that matter) fall short
  • Notes:
    • The architecture and resort itself as awesome – so much hand carved wood abounds, and even the fact that it’s literally built into the side of a small mountain/cliff setting is incredible
    • Having the get around the property on wood-wrapped trucks or tuk-tuks was a bit of a pain, but since our room was near the middle of the resort, we also had the option of short 5-10 minute walks (when the weather cooperated)
    • Views were especially incredible the further “up” into the resort you went; the views from the top pool and the breakfast area were amazing
    • Service was good, not great, but we can attribute most of that to being an Asian culture (whereby you will not be bothered for things like additional drinks, the check, etc); you simply had to ask for things and then they were very efficient about it
    • Food on property was, again, good-not-great; the breakfast was pretty typical for buffet style, the lunch was great depending on where you went and what you got (although it seemed a bit pricey – but we later realized this is just the island/resort effect and having recently adjusted from a much cheaper place like Chiang Mai)
    • The village itself, beyond the resort, is an odd town; it has heavy muslim influence and a severe lack of other dining or drinking options
    • Checkout was somewhat non-eventful, although it’s always fun to see just how much money you had shelled out in a short three days at a property like this; there’s always a momentary sink in your stomach after you do the high level conversion in your head (if you know what I’m talking about, isn’t that the worst?)
    • We did find one hidden gem in the town though: Odys Cafe. Cannot recommend this place highly enough if you ever find yourself on this island! The owner shared his life story, we spent several hours there one day (due to a rain storm), and even went back again for dinner

Til Next Time,

Michael

Asiaversary Trip Hotel Review – Intercontinental Hong Kong

Intercon Hong Kong
Lobby Bar views out towards Hong Kong Island

As I said before, while Katy calls it our “Honeymoon”, I can’t bring myself to call our trip that – since I know we went on a proper (albeit shorter), very nice trip just after our wedding. Given that it was just over one year later, I considered calling it the “Anniversamoon”, but just came up with Asiaversary for our trip’s title instead.

Our first stop on the expedition was Hong Kong, and we knew we wanted to stay at one of the region’s (if not the world’s) most iconic hotels – the Intercontinental Hong Kong. We got to use Katy’s IHG employee rate, which saved us quite a bit, although it did not get us a harbor view. They apparently charge quite a bit on the upsell to get you in a room with the Hong Kong Island view. Oh well!

As far as the review… Here is what I would say about Intercontinental Hong Kong:

  • Overall: 8/10 – Great hotel as long as you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg
  • Notes:
    • Phenomenal location, stunning views, and a great price (through Katy’s employee rate discount)
    • Views are possibly going to be obstructed soon by a new mixed use complex next door
    • Proximity to helpful public transit stations is an advantage, and leaves this hotel very closely situated to quickly get onto and off of Hong Kong Island (if you, like us, want to tour around SoHo or Lan Kwai Fong (the Bourbon Street of Hong Kong)
    • Pool area is very nice, and has several extremely helpful staff members (who will legit help you plan your visit and suggest places that are in your strike zone of interest)

Til Next Time,

Michael

Asiaversary Trip Flight Review – Intra-Asia Flights Recap & Experience Insights

I figured I could cover the intra-Asia legs in one post because those flights were much shorter (and, sadly, in basic economy/coach and nothing too “over the top”).

AirAsia (Hong Kong to Chiang Mai)

  • Overall, this was MUCH less of a headache than I ever imagined
  • Upon arrival to airport, we waited in a check-in line of 10 people max, and while the gate agent was slow at first, it seemed to be because he was checking a large group (~6 people) all in at once
  • The food was not good, but for the price (I pre-paid and pre-selected the meals, and they were around $2-3 apiece) it was nice to have something to have a few bites of, along with a drink
  • Interestingly, Exit Row seats are unable to drink alcohol (not sure if this is just an Asian airline thing or not, but it was definitely consistent), as well as have any luggage beneath the seat in front of them (both different quirks than FAA regulates for American travel)

ThaiSmile (Chiang Mai to Phuket)

  • Given that I paid a bit more for these fares than some of the more low-budget operator equivalents (AirAsia, Lion, etc), I did have higher expectations for these flights
  • The service itself along with the flight were both of great quality (more than meeting my expectations)
  • We ended up getting a (complimentary) Chicken Ragout Stromboli which may on the surface sound like something to stay away from – but was in fact DELICIOUS
  • The snack service is something that ThaiSmile does that, while you pay for it, is still nice to know it’s there
  • I would liken this to the Asian equivalent of Southwest airlines, with perhaps even a bit more polish and professionalism
  • Chiang Mai was a fairly easy airport to fly out of
  • Phuket on the other hand, was a bit of a disaster upon arrival; it reminded me a bit of a smaller, muggier, more chaotic Cancun
  • Deplaning happened via a passenger staircase, and then onto a quick bus shuttle over to the arrivals/baggage claim area for domestic gates

ThaiSmile (Phuket to Bangkok)

  • Same as above, but I would note that the Phuket departure experience isn’t quite as bad as our arrival experience; yes – it’s crowded and seemingly unorganized (I imagine their international terminal is better), but it got the job done
  • The snack service on this flight was actually a bit more of an odd combo than the prior leg (i.e. half of a creamed corn sandwich and half of a chicken sandwich doused in mayo); as such, neither of us really ate it and so I wouldn’t say it was a slam dunk
  • As far as arrival into Bangkok, the arrival itself was fine, and included another bus shuttle from the plane to the arrivals area

Til Next Time,

Michael

Asiaversary Trip Flight Review – Lufthansa Flight Recap (FRA>JFK) & Experience Insights

The next leg on our three-stop journey home was a flight on LH400 from Frankfurt (FRA) to New York (JFK). This was another very well-executed flight, and I came away with very fond impressions of the extended staff at Lufthansa and their brand as a whole.

One huge perk of this ticket was access to the Lufthansa Business Lounges. They are incredibly elegant, clean, and straightforward. There is something about the simplicity in design that leaves for a very soothing feeling. It’s a stark contrast from a similar lounge experience (virtually anywhere) stateside. I wondered if this had something to do with German people in general, as they seem to be very professional, clean, and precise. Thus, even as the lounge got more crowded during our four hours there (when we arrived around 6 AM, there were perhaps 8 people in the whole facility, versus when we left when there were 150+), it didn’t seem to get chaotically loud (such as those I’ve seen in ATL, JFK, DCA, among many others).

The flight was another non-eventful one. The staff seemed much more friendly and engaged than the Thai Airways crew. After having been in Thailand for nearly two weeks prior though, I chalked that up to the Thai people simply not wanting to impede on your time to bother you for questions (e.g. How is everything tasting? Can I get you anything more?). Rather, they will be of utmost help if you simply ask them for anything you’d like.

The food was a bit boring again (side question: where does one have to fly to get good airline food??), although there were some added perks that still helped differentiate the experience. For one, the menu had an interesting narrative about the changing over to winter, and what that meant for ingredients as well as one addition to the menu: goose. Katy and I both opted for the goose, as it seemed like something culturally appropriate (such as trying the Thai dish on Thai Airways coming from Thailand). It was so-so. But the small pack of cookies (again, with a narrative about how important baking cookies is to the German culture around the holidays) was a nice touch.

The amenity kit, although pretty standard, had a Christmas theme to it as well, with an ornament of sorts attached (reading “Happy Holidays”), along with a snowflake interior liner.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Asiaversary Trip Flight Review – Thai Airways Flight Recap (BKK>JFK) & Experience Insights

The first part of our multi-leg return trip home was a 12 hour flight from Bangkok (BKK) to Frankfurt (FRA) in Business Class (also known as Thai Royal Silk). We would then continue onward from there to New York (JFK) and finally back home to Atlanta (ATL). We paid 80k Chase Rewards Points per ticket (for just the BKK>FRA>JFK portion, whereas we booked JFK>ATL separately with Delta miles because it was overall much cheaper).

Seeing as our flight was at 11:40 PM on a Sunday, we didn’t quite know what to expect, either from (unpredictable, but usually terrible) Bangkok traffic or the airport itself. We were also unaware of just how awesome Thai Royal Silk would be. For an airport so massive, I was actually somewhat surprised by the order and efficiency that existed. Perhaps that was due to recent comparisons in airports that are much smaller and quite chaotic (Phuket and Chiang Mai).

The experience with Thai Royal Silk was great to put it simply. Upon arrival to the airport, there is a specific set of check-in counters (not unusual for Biz Class) with a seated check-in counter experience (way unusual for airports in my experience). After that, it’s a quick move through (dedicated) security checkpoint, and (if you so choose) down into the many Royal Silk lounges.

The next “wow” moment for this flight was the “Royal Silk Spa”, which offered us as Business Class ticketholders, a 30 minute massage (our choice between leg massage and head/neck/shoulders). We both opted for the head/neck/shoulders as we had already gotten a leg massage earlier that afternoon. It was a great way to decompress before a flight.

As far as the flight itself, it was relatively uneventful, but a very cool and unique experience since we were flying on the world’s largest passenger jet (an Airbus A380, capable in Thai Airways’ seating configuration of hauling over 500 passengers at once!). The jet was awesome, and we had great seats in the spacious and comfortable business class cabin on the upper deck of the plane. I appreciated the configuration of this plane more than others, because wifey and I got to be much closer to each other (versus, say, many Delta One configurations where you have a barrier between you and your seat mate).

Our flight began with a (fairly typical) hot towel to freshen up. Additionally, passengers in the business/first class cabins had their selection of several pre-flight beverages (spoiler alert: Katy and I obviously picked champagne, because it was Veuve Cliquot and because… champage). The food left a little bit to be desired. Neither of us were fans of the majority of our selections, although they weren’t bad by any means. Additionally, Katy was served by a different FA for the majority of the flight, which ended up causing some awkward timing differences (for instance, she got her main course at least 20 minutes before I did).

The amenity kit was another “what you see is what you get” moment. Nothing to write home about, but Katy was really excited for the quality of the bag and the ability to take it on weekend trips in the future with a small outfit of makeup and such.

One final added bonus was the tail camera, visible in the entertainment console. I got a pretty cool video upon approach into Frankfurt, which shows the plane fighting some light crosswind. Avgeeks of the world, rejoice…

All in all, using the Chase points to book this flight (through United) was a huge score. The business class experience was more than adequate for the points spent, and I would totally do it again.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Asiaversary Trip Flight Review – Delta One Flight Recap (ATL>SEA>HKG) & Experience Insights

Delta Flight to Hong Kong

Our outbound flights to Asia were booked as Skymiles Award tickets, costing 105k miles apiece. This seems like an outrageous sum to be sure, but when the true dollar cost of the flight is nearly $5,000, you can look past it. The flight from Atlanta to Seattle itself was a bit of a yawner, as that is a basic first class domestic experience. For the sake of time (and boring you), I’ll go ahead and put that aside and say that the ATL>SEA leg was great and met my expectations.

The buildup to the Hong Kong flight itself was fairly ordinary, although we did get a specific email asking us if we wanted to make meal selections in advance for our SEA>HKG leg. I had heard about this, and I think this particular case was one of their extended pilots, whereby they’ll take certain global travel regions (e.g. Asia) and offer specific menu options. Neither of us opted to do this because we wanted to see all the other options (which, apparently, will roll out next year). Once we got to the airport, the check-in process was fairly standard. The one nice touch Delta adds is free SkyClub access for business/first class passengers on international flights. I personally never pay since I have a Skymiles Reserve Card, but it was great to have Katy’s access free of charge (avoiding the typical $29 I pay otherwise when we go).

As far as the experience once we boarded the flight itself, I will say that I was  actually very impressed. Having flowing in Delta’s top-end cabins many times previously – I doubted that this new(ish) Delta One product would be able to deliver anything extra special. Admittedly, I don’t know that it would have been that much different than business class, but I think there were a few things here and there that made the prestige a bit more grand.

After being seated, we had the customary offer (for business/first class at least) of champagne, which we were definitely not going to refuse since this was the start of our trip of a lifetime. Beyond that, the flight had a proper dinner course, with all sorts of accompaniments, snacks, and beverage choices (even including careful touches like offering Port wine with the dessert). Just before arrival into Hong Kong.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Our Asiaversary Trip Overview

For our one year anniversary, my wife decided that we should go on a “real” honeymoon. I use quotation marks because, by all accounts, we did go on a proper honeymoon the first time around (see posts on Tulum – we spent 6 days there and had a blast!). However, since we were nearly out of paid time off at the end of 2016 when we got married, we didn’t get to do a lengthier couple week trip to really relax. So – this is why I refer to it as our “Anniversamoon”, or as you’ll see in upcoming posts – our “Asiaversary”.

Here is a brief overview of our itinerary, and I will be sure to add all the details in upcoming posts (from things like flight, hotel, food, activity, and entertainment perspectives):

Asiaversary Itinerary

As you can see, we had quite a diverse range of stops, as well as carriers (and lodging types). Our major stops were Hong Kong, Chiang Mai, Phuket (well, the islands near Phuket really), and Bangkok. We learned a lot, had a blast, and can’t wait to share more.

Hope you enjoy!

Til Next Time,

Michael

Wine Country Volume 5, Chapter 3

Cast
Cast: our favorite happy place in Dry Creek Valley

On our third day in Napa (a Saturday, and our friend Jamie’s birthday), we decided to venture over to Sonoma. It was Katy and I’s day to plan, and we really wanted to expose the group to a side of wine country they had likely never seen (i.e. the less snooty, more affordable side!).

Something different this trip: we had a limo taking us around all day. It was the first time Katy and I had done this and it was definitely a much safer alternative that allowed us to focus more on our time with friends (instead of navigating, losing cell service, etc etc). This did present some challenges, though, in terms of staying on schedule. Admittedly, the group was a bit more relaxed and leisurely than we predicted, so missing out on one tasting wasn’t the end of the world.

We originally aimed to do Cast, a possible flex option before lunch, Imagery, Eric Ross, and Saintsbury. We only ended up getting to Cast, Eric Ross, and Saintsbury. It was still a blast!

The reviews from day three:

  • Cast
    • Wine Score: 9/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 9/10
    • Notes: Very consistent with our prior trips (this was at least our 3rd visit to the vineyard).
  • Eric Ross
    • Wine Score: 8/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 8/10
    • Notes: While it was very enjoyable (similar to our prior visits), we were a bit turned off this time because we were not greeted as favorably because we were a large group. Considering this is the type of place that doesn’t really accommodate large groups, we shouldn’t have been too upset about it, but the fact that we did reserve in advance left us a bit sad. Once the owner came over though and put two-and-two together – they did seem to be much warmer with us.
  • Saintsbury
    • Wine Score: 9/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 10/10
    • Notes: We actually rated Saintsbury higher this time. Not because it was less enjoyable the first time around (we scored it overall 8/10). But more so because the experience as a group was so enjoyable. Everything from our new best friend Jacob (who poured us delicious wine), to the fact that we signed up for the wine club (because, admittedly, this is still the best Pinot Noir we’ve ever had and only realized that much later after our first visit), everything just seemed right. And, to top it off, the owner and head vintner/winemaker was there. They even autographed the magnums I purchased. How cool!!

All in all, we had an amazing trip and were very fortunate to get to spend it with so many of our friends. Can’t wait to go back next March!

Til Next Time,

Michael

Wine Country Volume 5, Chapter 2

Del Dotto Caves

On our second day in Napa (a Friday), we decided to primarily stay on the Napa side of the valley, although Katy and I lobbied hard to get everyone to Sonoma (more on that during Saturday’s post, though, as we were given the chance to plan that whole day’s itinerary!).

We were actually rather pleased with Napa for once, and the wineries, tasting rooms, and prices didn’t feel quite as exorbitant as other places we’d been on that side (with the exception of one – more to come on that in a moment!). We started the day at Del Dotto, and then migrated to Paraduxx, which was actually all we were able to do that day. Why, you may ask? Well, we actually scored a hard-to-get reservation at the French Laundry, and six of us decided that would be an ideal way to have a once-in-a-lifetime meal at one of the country’s most famous establishments. I’ll have to dedicate a separate post just to the meal, though, as there are so many details that it would get distracting (and I’d start to get hungry as I type).

The reviews from day two:

  • Del Dotto
    • Wine Score: 9/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 9/10
    • In full disclosure, I would usually avoid recommending somewhere like this due to the tasting fee ($75). However, it was simply the best barrel tasting experience I have ever experienced, and the uniqueness with which they customize your group’s tour is unparalleled. Barrel tastings are where you get the chance to taste wine directly from the small batch barrels in which it is aging (sometimes even before they would claim a wine otherwise “ready” to be drank – so that you can see how the wines age with time and how that impacts their aromas, flavors, and tannins). One drawback, though, was the price of the wine itself. While it is some of the best Cabernet I think I’ve ever had – the going rate for most bottles was $100-200 (with some selected bottles like a really cool one they have – THE BEAST – ringing in closer to $300). That’s steep. Plus, even though our group of 8 purchased several thousand dollars worth of wine (mostly all attributed to one of our DINK friends – dual income no kids), they still didn’t refund the tasting fees. This had previously been almost customary, so it’s a bit of a shame that they try to bleed you so much from a financial perspective. Everything else about this stop was incredible!
    • BONUS: They serve you some delicious pizza, homemade sausage and cheese, as well as chocolate at the end of the tour (most likely to help you avoid early intoxication if you’ve got other tastings on the horizon!)

Del Dotto Food

  • Paraduxx
    • Wine Score: 7/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 7/10
    • This was a cool spot, and had some great wine. It’s a part of the extended Duckhorn family, so you know you’re getting a good, quality product. Our tasting table outside, on a very nice day, was a great way to relax the afternoon away, all while enjoying the elixir of the gods.

Stay tuned for the review of the day we planned (Saturday). It’ll have a lot of familiar names that I’ve written about before. Spoiler alert: they did not disappoint at all!

Til Next Time,

Michael